Life Style

“The school abolished corporal punishment long before the family”

La Croix: In France, corporal punishment in schools was banned in 1803. But this practice lasted much longer. Why ?

Eirick Prairat : The French school is indeed one of the first to have officially abolished corporal punishment. However, this practice continued until the 1970s and 1980s. Because the law is not enough. A shared awareness of the harmful and useless nature of this practice had to emerge. Their final disappearance is due to three phenomena. The first is the advent of the rights of the child, which requires respect and restraint. The second is the growing refusal of parents – especially those from wealthy backgrounds – to see their children mistreated by teachers. Finally, the advent of new pedagogies has shown that it is possible to teach and educate without violence.

Has this heritage left traces in our contemporary school?

EP : Historically, the family has always been more violent and abusive than the school. The page of corporal punishment in schools has definitely been turned in France and Europe, where the emphasis is on making it meaningful and not hurting it. But this practice persists in Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, etc.) or in Asia (Japan in particular). It’s quite amazing to see that students are punished or have been punished in all latitudes!

→ REREAD. For Olivier Maurel, “spanking is counter-educational”

For the Swiss pedagogue Robert Dottrens, the art of education consists in resorting to punishment as little as possible…

EP : We must of course avoid resorting to it in a systematic way. But from there to thinking about an education without sanction, there is a step that cannot be taken. Even Maria Montessori’s Casa dei bambini provided for sanctions. The only example of a school without constraint is the libertarian school of Hamburg (1920).

→ INVESTIGATION. Positive education, the limits of a concept

But this experiment ended in a terrible failure, by the very admission of its initiators. The real question is not “should we sanction?” » but « how to sanction in an educational way? “. The sanction is not intended to be a parenthesis in the educational process, but can become, under certain conditions, a dynamic and positive moment.

Which sanctions do you think would be the most educational?

EP : The range of sanctions at school is relevant, even if exclusion is sometimes too easily resorted to. The challenge today is to develop reparation measures, inspired by restorative justice. These enable perpetrators to turn pain into effort, to repair themselves and to reconnect with others. It may just as well be a matter of repairing damaged equipment as of providing symbolic compensation (donating your time, helping, etc.).

→ TESTIMONIALS. “I kept a deep anguish”: when childhood punishments leave traces

What role should parents have in the sanction process?

EP : The school must have a good dialogue with the parents of pupils and explain to them its disciplinary policy. But a real dialogue requires everyone to stay in their place. The school no longer advises families on education; parents must in turn cultivate an art of restraint in their criticism.


A slow recognition of the child as a subject of rights

1803. Napoleon’s civil code condemns intentional blows and wounds, unless they are carried out by the father on his own children.

1935.France abandons the right of sanction granted to the father which allowed him, on simple request, to place his minor child (under the age of 21) in a house of correction.

[1945 It creates judges for children and social services for child support.

1989. Paris signs the UN’s International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which commits States to “to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse” within his family.

2019. The law of July 10 relating to the prohibition of ordinary educational violence specifies that the“parental authority is exercised without physical or psychological violence”.


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